What’s in the box? – Reflections of a business traveller cyclist


What’s in the box? ……………………………………………….I get asked this a lot as I travel across the world for work with my bike in tow.

I work for the technology and strategy company Ciena. Ciena is one of those companies who everybody uses but nobody knows about. The equipment and solutions Ciena builds light up the fibre optic cables and networks all over the world that provide access to the internet and data networks. I work in a team that looks at different market segments and works out where Ciena fits and how to shape the products, solutions and technology to meet the customers needs. I specialize in the mobile world and in particular what is happening for 5G and it involves speaking to Ciena’s customers and potential customers, industry partners and bodies, standard forums and other technologists all over the world. It is fascinating, exciting and at the same time daunting. I am a firm believer that technology can be used to do so much good in the world and am excited by the possibilities and experiences that it can open up.
As I travel a lot and enjoy cycling, (I took up cycling again a few years ago to offset the spread of middle age (see this post ), I decided that wherever possible I would take my bike with me. My first business trip with my bike was a couple of years ago to attend a technology forum at Ciena’s R&D labs in Ottawa. The trip was successful in that my bike made it safely to Canada and with the early morning jet lag I also got the time to go out on the bike ahead of meetings. Since that first successful trip I have endeavored to do the same again, with varying degrees of success.
Here are some things I have learned along the way.

1
. Plan Ahead, do some research. Not every business trip is going to be conducive to having the bike along. I ask myself a few questions before deciding to take the bike or just opt for the hotel indoor bike. These questions include,

  • Will I feasibly be able to get out for a ride during the trip?
  • Will it be dark in the morning before meetings and get dark early in the evening after the working day which means cycling would be hazardous.
  • Is this a city/place where cycling is feasible ? (this doesn’t always stop me)
  • What will the weather be like while I am there? (is it going to be persistent wet, windy, snowy, 45 deg Celsius etc)
  • Am I staying in one place or doing a multi-city/country visit? This means will I have to pack/unpack the bike many times.
  • Will I be able to transport the bike box from the airport? (many “intermediate” rental cars especially in the US don’t have fold down seats)
  • Do the airlines that serve that country/city allow bike transport? (this is a blog piece all of itself). Being a frequent flyer with airlines helps.

If all that works out, then I also try and plan a few rides using information from the web or local sources. I then save these rides in strava and load them onto my bike computer (Garmin 810) with an updated basemap created from the openstreetmap project on the web.   I’ve written another blog piece on planning routes and the sources I use, click here to read it. 

2. Use a hard shell bike case. I use a Polaris Bike Pod, which is supplied by my local bike shop, The Bike Centre. Previously I have also used the BikeBoxAlan. Both are great hard cases which I have found protect my bike and the contents really well. Both are lightweight which helps with the airline baggage weight limits but sturdy. I have a slight preference for the Polaris bike pod as it is a bit more streamlined than the BikeBoxAlan and so fits in cars better and is a little easier to tow around the airport. I have found these hard cases to give just a little more resilience to the sort of travel I do.

3. Add extra bubble wrap and padding to whatever is supplied. It will keep your precious stead from getting scratched or worse. I normally add a generous amount of bubble wrap around the rear derailleur , seat post, drivetrain and around each fixing/attachment/strap point to give a little extra protection. Also when packing my helmet, shoes and clothing I put them in bags that I don’t mind getting a little oil on if they become in contact with greased parts of the bike.

4. Pack a spare rear hanger – It’s good practice anyway regardless of traveling but it can save a bike trip.

5. I include a bike towel, I don’t feel comfortable getting grease and stuff all over the hotel towels or hotel room carpets when building or packing my bike.

6. I pack my bike computer in my laptop bag. 

7. At the airport take the carry/tow handle off the bike box when handing over to baggage handlers and carry the tow handle in hand luggage. The bike box I use has a detachable pull handle to help when wheeling the box around the airport. Unfortunately this can get snagged in the baggage systems of airports. I had the misfortune to have this happen to me when the baggage ticket was attached to it on a trip from Atlanta to the UK via Toronto. The handle was snagged in the machine which broke one of the latches and the baggage tag slipped off at Toronto meaning they had no idea where to send it on to for the connecting flight to London. It took 8 days to find and ship back to the UK the bright green bike box with distinguishing stickers on it. This leads me on to the next two points.

8. Have the check-in clerk attach the baggage tag to the side of the box and not the handle (if the box has one). Also then take the individual little stickers that are on the baggage tag (there are normally at least two more) and distribute them around the box. Just in case the main baggage tag gets ripped off by something. For the consequences of not doing this see the previous point.

9. Customize the bike box, to make it easily identifiable when explaining to a baggage clerk. The one I use has stickers on it from all the places I have visited with it and it also has my rider details on it. Just in case it ever doesn’t make it onto the connecting flight then at least it can be described and identified. (See previous points)

10. Be prepared to wait a bit longer at the baggage claim carousel. Invariably the oversized luggage area is not near the carousel that your flight has been assigned too and the quality of the oversized luggage areas & service varies immensely. The longest I have waited and the bike box has arrived has been 65 minutes. (That was at Sydney airport).

You cycled in Mumbai??? – Reflections of a business traveller cyclist

At the beginning of October I attended a Small Cell Forum conference hosted by Reliance Jio in Mumbai.   As I was going to be there a few days and would be working in difference time zones throughout the day I did some research to see if it was possible to go out for a ride whilst I was there.  Having previously taken my bike to India in Delhi earlier in the year  I had an idea of what to expect from the traffic point of view but wanted to see if the area yielded any cycling routes.

One of the things I do when deciding whether or not to take my bike with me on a business trip especially if it is the first time I am traveling to a city or area is to have a look on the internet to see what sort of cycling community exists and what the area is like for riding in.

The first thing I do is enter a simple search into google.  

Cycling in ……….. for example Mumbai.  

To my surprise I found quite a cycling community in Mumbai which I didn’t expect.  Midnight Cycle Tours, routes into the national parks and groups that would go out along the coastal roads early in the morning or late in the evening. 

Invariably there will be a blog post or a cycling club that has a local website with their favorite routes or cycling shops in the area.  Sometimes cycle shops or clubs will post details of their regular rides, this is especially true in cities where it may be more difficult to get out on the bike.   

From this initial google search I can start to get an impression of what the area has to offer for cycling.

I will then turn to bikemap.net .  A website full of user uploaded routes from all across the globe.  I have yet to find a place I am visiting that doesn’t have at least one route loaded on that website.

I have also used the Strava Curated routes for some of the cities I have visited.  This database is slowly growing and more cities and areas are being added which list top 10 routes in a given city.

One of the things I did in 2017 was join the Rapha Cycling Club as this is a global cycling community.  A search of the club forums can normally yield a member or two in most places around the world and as the RCC network expands so do the shops and local chapters which helps in ride planning and routes.

These resources help me decide whether or not there are sufficient opportunities to create some routes that I can tackle in the timespan I will have in a given city or location. Normally this will be either early in the morning on a working day (especially when jet lag kicks in) or maybe at the weekend if I am staying for longer.  I will then start plotting some routes on the route tool on Strava.   This helps me gauge how successful the rides could be.  If I can come up with two or three good options then normally I will take the bike with me.

For Mumbai for example, I managed to plan 5 possible routes. I did get to go out on the bike one day but my ride was cut short as my internet research was not thorough enough to note that the park I wanted to cycle into had a cash entry fee even for cyclists.  The info on the website was out of date.  Unfortunately my ATM card didn’t work so couldn’t get cash at the time and the opportunity was lost.  Nevertheless I know for next time.

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You’re a cyclist aren’t you Mark?

I think being clad in lycra head to toe pushing my bike through the hotel lobby at 7.30am in the morning getting back from a morning ride gave the game away.   “Yes “ I answered, “good” said my colleague, “make sure you keep the 21st -25th September clear, we are sponsoring our clients annual charity bike ride and we need to put a team together.  I need you to be in that team. “

That brief conversation back in February in a hotel lobby in Barcelona was how I landed the opportunity to ride for Ciena as principal sponsors for the annual Colt Technology Charity bike ride.   The event in 2017 was to be their 6th edition as they rode from regional office to regional office to raise funds for charities linked to their various regions.   Previous years they had ridden from London to Paris. Paris to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Munich and Marselle to Barcelona.   The route for 2017 was from Barcelona to Valencia over 4 days.

And so fast forward 7 months and having completed the Haute Route Alps a couple of weeks ago, once again my bike was in the back of a van and making it’s way to the Mediterranean coast line for another multi-day event to join 4 other Ciena colleagues and 120 other riders from Colt and their partners.

We gathered on Thursday afternoon to check-in, register, get our ride numbers, attend the pre ride briefing and get to know each other a little bit more.  Each rider taking part was split into groups based upon rider ability and experience.  I had previously elected to go in the group that would average 25kph on the road.  Turned out later that I had been Strava-stalked but the ride organizers  and pushed up into the fastest group, which turned out to the best decision as they were a great group to ride with.

On Friday morning the 12 groups gathered outside the Barcelona offices of Colt and one by one groups headed out to split the peloton up and not cause disruption on the road.

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The ride each day consisted of a base route that would get the riders between the “host” venues for each day with an excursion route attached into the ride for those who wanted to add a little more challenge to their riding.  This was a very successful set up as it allowed riders of all abilities to get involved and stretch themselves according to their abilities.

Then each day all the riders luggage would be transported from hotel to hotel along with a day bag that would be available at each of the feed stations along the route.  The remarkable thing about this though was that the whole event was staffed by Colt employees.  Whether it was the team moving the luggage, or the team moving the day bags, or the team that stocked and staffed the feed stations along the route, each person was a part of Colt and they did an excellent job.    One of the really appreciated features was that all of the riders bags were taken to their hotel rooms and left inside their rooms so that riders didn’t have to haul their bags up to their rooms after finishing the ride.  Such a small detail but so significant.  I greatly appreciated this, as this was not done on the Haute Route.

And the feed stations were excellent, There was no chance of losing weight during this ride as the food at the lunch stops was so good.  The Colt volunteer team did a fantastic job.

Day 1 140km from Barcelona to Tarragona 

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Photo Credit Joe Rass @lebikestop

 

Day 2 Sun was shining again as we went from Tarragona to Tortosa, 156km 2256m.

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Day 3  Tortosa to Castellon – 180km 2,000m climbing and a dip in the lake…..

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Day 4 – Castellon to  the finish in Valencia 125km.

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The Ciena Team Photo Credit Insta  : edstar_osei

The total route length for the 4 days was just over 600km with 7000m of climbing, so a good few days in the saddle.  Also our team 12 managed to take the top three places in the King of the Mountains competition.   (I placed second)

Each of the local regions of Colt that participate in the charity bike ride nominate and raise money for those charities.  In the UK this was the charity Place2be.   ,the UK’s leading children’s mental health charity.

On the last day of the ride they posted a tweet sharing that over £20000 had been raised so far and that this was replicated across each of the participating Colt regions.   Our five person Ciena team was able to add a further £2000 to that total.

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Those that know me, know that I really enjoy cycling, it provides me with a great way to free my mind, recharge, think, test and challenge myself.  This year I have had the great pleasure also to do that and along the way raise a bit of money for charities that help others.

En-route to the start.

I am currently en-route to Nice from my latest work trip in India and the Middle East. 5G training sessions and customer meetings interspersed with the odd ride in very hot and humid conditions.   Not the most ideal last week of preparation for the mountains but that is how it is.    I have been careful with what I have eaten and not indulging too much in the local cuisine despite wanting too.  I am real fan of both indian and arabic food and so that has been really tough but I cannot afford to add anymore weight.  Unfortunately I have not been able to get down to the same weight as I was for the marmotte in 2015 when I was at my leanest.  Which means those first two days in the mountains are going to be really tough.  By the end of the week I should meet the target weight, sigh…..

Originally I had planned to spend the last 2 weeks pretty much on the bike every morning whilst on holiday in Cornwall and then do a couple of generally easy rides whilst abroad on business.  Unfortunately the weather and lack of road bike (it was stuck in Toronto for a week) put paid to that plan.  I took my winter bike down to Cornwall, along with borrowing a helmet and using my winter shoes whilst the rest of my kit was stuck in Toronto but the weather really hampered the chances of going out each morning.  If it was raining then the roads were really slippery and I didn’t want to have a big crash just weeks before the race.   As it was on one of the days I did manage to get out, I did have a crash when I was knocked off by a close pass on the Lizard peninsula

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Taking a bit of a tumble.  

I did manage to get out for a couple of rides whilst traveling which were adventures of their own.   Heading out on Saturday from Guragoan outside of Delhi I picked a route that local cycling websites recommended as a decent distance ride.  70km in 38degree heat with a bit of climbing and managing Indian city traffic was good fun.  It was topped off by meeting the only other cyclist on the road at the time who turned out to be from the same company I work for – Maybe only Ciena employees are mad enough to be out in the heat and traffic.

After reaching Dubai I managed to get out for a couple of city rides on the bike paths by the relatively newly constructed canal path to the beach and along to the Burg a Arab and Palm island.  The heat was intense here in the mid 40s celsius which meant I didn’t push it.

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Whilst out on an evening ride trying to avoid the intense heat in Dubai 

So whilst the training hasn’t been ideal in this last few weeks I am still excited and looking forward to the challenge of the Haute Route event which begins on Monday.  I arrive in Nice later today, over the weekend I will post details of how to follow my progress directly via my race number.  Look out for updates on my facebook profile, twitter and instagram.

I am doing this ride to challenge myself and raise money for Team Type 1 Foundation who seek change the way diabetes is thought of and provide life saving medicine to those in the world who cannot obtain it otherwise.  Click on this link for more detail on Team Type 1

To donate to Team Type 1 visit my justgiving page www.justgiving.com/markstt1fundraising 

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10,000miles completed…

Why 10,000 miles?   Back in January 2016 when I decided I would ride the Haute Route this August, I knew I needed an intermediate goal to keep me focused.  Initially I decided to ride 10,000km by the end of 2016, I reached that goal and went on to cover just over 11,000km.  So with 7 months before the start of the event, I decided to add another 5000km which would make it 10,000miles.   So here we are, with just a couple of weeks to go until the big event, the cumulative counter has just ticked over 16,000km or 10,000miles.

My local newspaper the Romsey Advertiser ran a piece on this milestone and a bit about the Haute Route ride in August.

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To sponsor me, please visit my justgiving page, all donations go directly to Team Type 1 Foundation.

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We fight for the right to live – A visit to Team Type 1 Foundation.

This week I have been in Atlanta for the Small Cell Forum Plenary meetings looking ahead to the advent of 5G mobile technology.  Atlanta is also the home of Team Type 1 Foundation, the charity for which I am riding the Haute Route Alps in just 4 weeks time.  So I popped into say hello and collect a few things ahead of the race next month.

Amber Medley who is responsible for Elite Racing and Outreach for both TT1 and the pro team Team Novo Nordisk took me for a brief tour of the offices and warehouse where they were getting ready for the elite mens participation in the Tour of Utah.  She shared a little more of the work that Team Type 1 Foundation are doing in their cornerstone programs.

Sustainable Diabetes Program.

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The Sustainable Diabetes Program saves lives in third-world countries by providing glucose meters, test strips and diabetes management education to thousands who would otherwise suffer debilitating complications and early death.

To date, Team Type 1 Foundation have provided the people of Rwanda with 2.2 million test strips and 1,750 glucose meters.

More importantly, the supplies and education have dropped the collective A1C of diabetics in Rwanda from 10% to 8.9%.

That means TT1 are saving lives TODAY.

Global Ambassador Scholarship Program.

The Global Ambassador Leadership Training Initiative makes heroes out of today’s university students with diabetes.

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This scholarship-based program recognizes athletes with type 1 diabetes who are using sport as a platform to educate, empower, and inspire those around them with diabetes via community outreach. And, the awarded funds offset the financial burden diabetes care places on families.

Currently, 130 students have applied for the 2017-2018 school year. It is our desire to not turn any away and to ensure that we can empower each student to become a leader in their community via outreach and leadership development.

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The Team Type 1 Foundation fights for the right to live through a global mission of education, empowerment and equal access to medicine for everyone affected by diabetes.

Your donations go directly to support these cornerstone programs, expanding the reach and breadth of Team Type 1’s influence for good in helping achieve global eduction, empowerment and equal access to medicine.

Thank you for your support. To donate visit the JustGiving page www.justgiving.com/MarksTT1Fundraising

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Less than 100 days to go….

An important milestone was reached last week – 100 days to go before the start of the Haute Route Alps.

At this stage the preparation changes from purely doing the kilometers on the bike to getting some climbing into the training regime.

Recently I have been traveling again with work with business trips to Japan, Korea, Australia and France and my bike travelled with me yet again.   In these trips I looked for routes to provide good climbing experience.

Mt Fuji.

Two days of climbing around Mt Fuji.  I caught the train out from Shinjuki station in the west of Tokyo (not far from Rapha Tokyo), that each day handles over 2 million passengers out to the local town of Sagamiko about 45mins by train west of Tokyo. Bicycles are allowed on the trains in Japan but must be carried in a bike bag and so it is possible to purchase lightweight roll up bags that can then be packed small enough to attach to your frame or stick in the jersey back pocket.

So before heading out from the station I grabbed a bike bag from a local sport shop and packed my bike by removing the wheels, strapping them to the frame and attaching the carry straps.

Day 1 – Sagamiko – Lake Yamanakako – Takao – 137km, 1934m

This route started with a long and steady climb of 45km from 200m elevation up to 1,110m along the Doshi valley to Lake Yamanakako at the foot of Mt Fuji.   Continue reading “Less than 100 days to go….”

Still trying to keep the fitness up.

I’m sat in the airport lounge in Ottawa Airport watching the snow fall on the runway and the small army of snow ploughs and trucks keep the path clear.  I am hoping that my flight home isn’t delayed.  This week I have been in Canada for a series of workshops and meetings with the engineering teams in Ciena on the emerging technologies for 5th Generation Mobile or 5G.   It has been a very productive week in that regard and the week has been very much a success.  It has however been a lean week for training for the Haute Route later this year.   With just a few months to go, the training and the fundraising has got to increase.

Last Saturday I joined the Rapha Cycling Club on a great day with a tribute to the Milan San-Remo pro’s race by cycling 167km from the London Soho Clubhouse to Hayling Island on the coast. First time this year pushing over the 100mile mark in a single ride and also pushing the climbing total up a little.  It was a fantastic day on the bike and a great group to ride with.

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photo credit @Alberto K

But then on Sunday evening, after an emotional day at Church, I was heading out from London Heathrow to Canada. After a careful study of the weather forecast for the week, I decided that the safer course of action for this week was not to bring the bike with me.  Temperatures throughout the week of -15deg C and a good amount of snow still on the ground and more falling proved this to be a wise decision.  So training this week was confined to a couple of sessions in the pool and a decent spin on the indoor bike in the hotel.

The training will step up a notch next week when I head out with my brother Chris and our mate Andy to get four solid days on the bike in the hills.

In the meantime, I hope this snow eases up a little as I want my flight to leave tonight.  Lisa and I are supposed to be Tandem Skydiving tomorrow, a 40th birthday present from my mum.  We are not diving tandem together I hasten to add, although the kids have been referring to it as the day we orphan them….

 

Training must follow my work..

… which isn’t so bad if work requires me to fly to the other side of the world where it is the height of summer.  Not great if the location is in the middle of winter.    Very confusing if one’s travel is via both in the space of a week.

I have just got back from a recent business trip that took me from the UK to Washington DC (landing right in the middle of the protests surrounding President Trump’s executive order restricting travel from certain muslim countries), and on to San Francisco before doubling back to the UK and then across the equator to Sydney, Australia.

Work commitments, weather and the exorbitant costs of flying with my bike Continue reading “Training must follow my work..”

Cycling in Taipei

This week I have been out in Taiwan on a business trip.  With the Haute Route charity ride looming on the summer horizon I cannot afford to slacken up on time on the bike.  So I googled cycling in taiwan to see what the results suggested. After looking on a couple of resources like David’s guide to cycling in Taiwan   I decided it was worth trying to sort out some cycling. In Taiwan at this time Continue reading “Cycling in Taipei”